While details on the full magnitude of the nationwide Wright County Egg recall and related Salmonella enteritidis outbreak continue to unfold, the conversation on prevention has begun.  One such preventative measure being discussed involves vaccinations.

In an article published in today’s Washington Post by Associated Press writer Michael Crumb, he writes:

Low-cost vaccines that may have helped prevent the kind of salmonella outbreak that has led to the recall of more than a half-billion eggs haven’t been given to half of the nation’s egg-laying hens.

The vaccines aren’t required in the U.S., although in Great Britain, officials say vaccinations have given them the safest egg supply in Europe. A survey conducted by the European food safety agency in 2009 found that about 1 percent of British flocks had salmonella compared to about 60 to 70 percent of flocks elsewhere in Europe, said Amanda Cryer, spokeswoman for the British Egg Information Service.

The vaccine works by protecting the hens from contracting the bacteria in the first place, thereby stopping the spread among the flock.

Of course, vaccines are only one part of a possible solution.  As Mr. Crumb’s article points out, vaccines may help prevent the spread of this nasty bug, but they will do nothing to prevent the less-than-stellar animal handling and food manufacturing practices that encourage the spread of these foodborne bugs in the first place.

Doug Grian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the vaccine deserves additional study, but it would likely have only have limited effectiveness against a bacteria like salmonella, which has many different strains.

"It’s only going to be a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem," he said.

It would be more effective to give the FDA additional authority to stop repeat offenders and pull contaminated products off shelves and to move away from big production facilities that ship across the nation and can quickly spread disease, Grian-Sherman said.

"The way we produce a lot of our food and meat and eggs in particular, has gotten to a scale where it’s very difficult to prevent these problems," he said. "That needs to change and we need to think about producing food on a scale that is better for the communities and safer for consumers."